Jun 3, 2013

Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”

By Paul Krueger


You will recall in my first write-up for this season, I mentioned we could look forward to murder, betrayal, and a wedding.

I neglected to mention that they were all the same thing.

Having known about the Red Wedding from the books, I’ve waited two years for the series to get to this point.  Part of it is just because I eagerly anticipated watching my various social media networks explode with hilarious nerd-rage.  But deeper than that, this is a dividing point in the show’s life for both its story and its fanbase.  Obviously, the faith and devotion of its audience will be tested--Robb Stark was probably the most inherently good player in the game, and easy on the eyes to boot.  And like his father before him, now he’s an Episode Nine Clusterfuck.

What interests me more, though, is its function in the overall story.  The Red Wedding absolutely needed to happen, heart-wrenching as it was.  The world of Game of Thrones has grown increasingly dark and cynical as the story’s worn on, and that’s left less and less room for an idealist like Robb Stark.  Eventually, it beggars belief that a man who refuses to play dirty would last so long against a weasel like Walder Frey, a psychopath like Roose Bolton, or an evil genius like Tywin Lannister.  One way or another, Robb and his men had to go.  And how better to make the series’ point than to use the ultimate act of cynicism and self-interest to snuff out the North’s last flicker of hope?

The Red Wedding was allegedly why Weiss and Benioff wanted to adapt A Song of Ice and Fire to television in the first place, and their planning here shows.  The speed with which all the pieces lock into place infuses the scene with inevitability.  By conspicuously lightening the mood and playing off Walder as a kooky old man, it made even a seasoned veteran like me feel every single arrow and blade as they flashed onscreen.  David Bradley played the sneering villain to the hilt, and Michelle Fairley turned in probably the best performance of her time on this show when she begged for mercy.  Even Oona Chaplin, who hasn’t gotten much to do, was given a nice moment in the spotlight.  And the design of the Twins was...

...Oh, right.  Other stuff happened in this episode, too.  Sticking with the theme of “poontang vs. duty,” Jon makes precisely the opposite choice Robb made, and he ends up living because of it.  Knowing what was coming later, I knew this episode would hit me hard emotionally.  What I didn’t expect was for one of those moments to be the look on Rose Leslie’s face as the man she loved abandons her to Tormund Giantsbane without a word.  Both Robb’s and Jon’s choices led them to impossible situations.  But while the show seems to be laughing at the idea of honor and duty keeping oneself safe, it’s by keeping to his Night’s Watch vows that Jon manages to stay alive where his half-brother doesn’t.

I proposed “poontang vs. duty” as a joke, but now that I think of it, it’s actually a perfect theme for much of this episode.  It certainly encompasses Daenerys’ storyline.  Or really, Jorah’s, since the show takes his perspective this week, and kudos to Iain Glen for being able to carry a plot without once uttering the word “khaleesi.”  Jorah and Dany are both faced with a situation of poontang vs. duty, and both of them want both.  Unfortunately for Jorah, Dany can totally have her man-cake and eat it, too.  But he can only stand there, smeared with his enemies’ blood, smile fading while his beloved asks about another man (presumably as “The Sound of Silence” plays in his head).  Barristan’s become a new cool old guy, Grey Worm’s a new military advisor, and Daario gets to be the man at the queen’s side.  Dany’s world is growing, but Jorah’s place in it is only getting smaller.

Which brings us back to Robb, a man the world’s also outgrown.  Viewers will have to decide what the Red Wedding means to them.  Will it be the moment the show finally broke their optimism for good, or another debt they can look forward to the Lannisters paying?  Was it a necessary culmination of cause and effect, or random violence in service of a greater dramatic point?  As I see it, it was the final step necessary to bring Robb and Catelyn to the places their characters needed to go.  Like Ned before them, they can hang over the proceedings of everything else now, far more potent as symbols than they ever were as players.

Grade: A

Miscellaneous:
  • The episode’s title refers to a song with a very important message: don’t ever, EVER fuck with Tywin Lannister.  The soundtrack version, recorded by The National, is here.  There’s also a great clip from last season of Bronn and his men singing it over drinks shortly before the Battle of Blackwater.
  • There’s a bar in New York called Professor Thom’s which has weekly viewing parties and a policy of passing out free Jello shots whenever anyone important dies.  Seven hells, did I wish I still lived in New York for this episode.
  • Rickon got actual things to do and personality and stuff!...And then he left.
  • Arya’s threat to skullfuck the Hound makes me want to put her on my list of people to never fuck with.  Right under Tywin Lannister.
  • The other Starks get to stand on the outside of all this week’s action, just missing happy reunions with their family.  They don’t really fit in with my ad hoc theme, largely due to their ages (and their traveling companions, for that matter).
  • Lady Talisa was a foreigner, so there was no way she could have understood, but what did she expect would happen if she named her kid after Sean Bean?
  • The Twins is a two-part bridge, guys.  So I guess that makes it a...double crossing.

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